The Women’s World Cup has been a roller coaster ride from the beginning. Although I support the US Women’s National Team, I am much more interested in the women’s game growing and being accepted in its own right worldwide. Most of the results have been in line with expectation. However the results are not all that matters. Even though there are more games to be played, this World Cup is sending messages. Some of them need to be heard and emulated, others need to be learned from then possibly forgotten. Regardless, I thought it was worth the time to recap some of the biggest beats so far.
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Lone voices aren’t loud – The absence of one of the best players in the world has largely gone unnoticed. Norway has performed relatively well without their Ballon d’Or winner, Ada Hegerberg. Her decision to stay out of the Norwegian National Team was a mild source of intrigue but in the end has been overtaken by other story lines. There is just too much happening in a World Cup that the absence of one person is going to invoke great change. If the World Cup is the best platform for female athletes to make a statement (and I believe that it is), then it requires a much more evident and pervasive stance. Perhaps all of the teams deciding, they are not going to play for the first minute of each game because they want to make a statement about inequality. Instead of kicking of an internationally televised game exactly when the whistle blows, a minute, thirty seconds, ten seconds is taken for all of the players to stand together against a common foe of inequality.
Objectively Subjective – Although it has people behind it, one of the loudest voices of the tournament has no voice at all. VAR has all but taken over a tournament that is supposed to be about human beings playing and interpreting the beautiful game. Unfortunately in an effort to “get it right”, it’s all gone wrong. The games have largely been robbed of the emotion of the moment. Referees without VAR get things wrong (and obviously with VAR things still go wrong). Based on what I’ve seen from this World Cup, I’m much less worried about the getting the call “right” as I am the referee doing her/his best to endeavor to make the “right” call. Human error is part of the process but two minute discussions over earphones about a possible infraction have not improved the game, they’ve cheapened it. This is largely the reason that I’ve not watched a NFL game in four years. The game has been taken away from the humans, so they defer, rather than decide.
Entitlement Doesn’t Lead to Titles – As a fan of the USWNT, it pained me to watch the match against Spain. In an almost Rocky IV type moment, I felt myself almost wanting for Spain to win. This was not me renouncing my citizenship. It was the simple fact that I saw more instances of pride producing behavior from the Spanish team. As a fan, pride is one of the emotions that we rely upon to continue our association with a team. When we are no longer proud to support our team, there is little point in being a fan. The Spanish team had a plan and they executed it well. The US didn’t and didn’t. At a variety of moments, it seemed as though the US were waiting for Spain to give up. Rapinoe and Morgan seemed to want the referee to be the one to help them past the defenders. Expectations of calls for any contact were fully on display. Although some of Spain’s tackles were reckless, the general feeling that I got was that they were actually trying to win the game through skill and hard work rather than reputation. My hope is that this was a blip on the radar screen but I am fearful that we are more show than GO!
One last word before she leaves – In one of the most shareable moments of the World Cup, Marta exited the tournament by laying down the gauntlet to the future of the sport. Although the message was intended toward young Brazilian girls, it is a strong message for anyone. The heroines or heroes that we esteem so heavily will not always be there for us to adore. Someone, maybe you, needs to pick up where they left off or possibly challenge for their spot. It is not going to be easy. As Marta put it, you need to cry before you can smile. The picture needs to be painted over and over again that the exceptional do not get there by chance or in born talent. There is work that no one sees and most people fear but if you want to get to the highest levels, you need to embrace.
So even though it is not over, there is so much to take from the World Cup so far. It is one of the reasons why I love soccer so much. The result is only part of the story. Stats and scores can only tell you so much. The experience of the 90 (+7 COME ON! VAR!) minutes is necessary to tell a story about the people that are trying to get that result. Their stories run parallel to our stories and allow us to live more fervently because it resonates around the world!